Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A wild Leopard sends shivers through my spines!

Visitors who flock to India’s tiger reserves have only one question on their minds: "Will we spot a Tiger?" The meager number of Tigers, leopards and panthers left in India makes sure that most leave disappointed. Never mind the herds of elephants, deer and other ungulates that crowd the verdant forest floor, only if one of the big cats was sighted is the trip deemed a success because they have so become few and far between.

Having been on 3 such trips to wildlife reserves before, my expectations was rock bottom. I hardly cared. I had convinced myself that there was nothing special about watching one of the big cats in the wild. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

We (friends from office – Mani, Srini, Ramdu and Ranga) landed at Pollachi (TamilNadu) on Thursday midnight. This was one trip in which we had no reservations anywhere and to be honest we didn’t even have a plan! The only thing we wanted to do was get into the Tiger reserve and spend some time either at Topslip (Tamilnadu) or at Parambikulam (Kerala). Thankfully we got a decent room and we hit the bed straightaway. By Friday afternoon after a lot of negotiations and influence we got permission to stay at Parambikulam. They didn’t allow our Scorpio inside and hence had to use their transport. The idea was to spend a day there and then decide on our next plan.

After a heavy lunch we relaxed in the forest cottage for sometime and then left on a safari to the forests. We went to the Parambikulam dam and had a bamboo boat ride where we spotted wild elephants. After this we witnessed a tribal dance (I don’t wasn’t to talk about this!). By the time we headed back to our cottages it was almost 7.30PM. The forest was pitch dark, but it seemed like it was the most active then. For the first half of our journey nothing major happened. We flashed our torchlight in all directions, but to no avail. The maximum one would see were bright shiny eyes with none of us having any clues as to what that animal was.

But just few minutes before we reached our camp, everything seemed to happen at once. Suddenly we saw a flurry of activity. We spotted a wide range of animals from bison, wild boars to herds of deer. Even some sambars crossed our track. But none of these incidents came anything close to what we were about to witness next.

Just couples of seconds after all these animals were seen, someone exclaimed that there was a leopard in the bushes. It took me few seconds to get the direction right and then I saw it! It was one of those amazing moments in your life that will be etched in your memory forever. Even now when I think of it, shivers run through my spine. The leopard was hardly 10 feet away and it was standing majestically and was staring right back at us. There is something about a wild cat, with its tail held high, that can never come when we see them in cages or in tamed conditions. This one had an aura around it as if it was the master and we were its subjects. The vibes are just too much to bear even for someone who was sitting inside the comfort of a vehicle. The driver used a flashlight to focus on the animal and we were able to watch it for a few seconds. I tried capturing the moment with my camera but everything came black.

In the thick forests of southern India, leopard sightings are rare. They are extremely shy animals who run away from everything other than their prey. So spotting a leopard, especially the ones lasting more than a few moments are rarer still. After sometime we could only see two shining eyes and that was the end of the most glorious moments of our trip.

Only when we reached our cottages (less than a minute away from the leopard!) did I realize how tantalizingly close the leopard was. In a matter of seconds it could have easily come over to where I was. The thought made me feel extremely happy to have witnessed such an animal in its true environment but also made me sad that the future generations may not even have this small opportunity.

After a thankful night in the cottage we went trekking the next day morning to the forests. After the previous nights experience we had some expectations. But a three hour trek didn’t yield anything and we headed back to our cottage.

We were back to Pollachi by afternoon and with nothing much to do we headed to Ooty. Reached there by evening and the weather was splendid. It was so cold that we had to use rajai/blankets in the night! That’s summer at Ooty for you!! The next day I and Srini got up at 5.30 and went for a hike for about 2 hours. It was a satisfying walk considering the amount of food we had the previous night..:)

We left Ooty around 9.30 and were back in Bangalore by 6. We made several stops in between enjoying the journey on the way. Sadly we didn’t spot any major wild animals both at Mudumalai and Bandipur. The only major incident was the sighting of a rouge elephant (if an elephant is not part of a heard then mostly it’s a rogue elephant and it’s considered to be dangerous) next to the road at Bandipur. A maniac/drunkard actually stopped right in front of it and was taking snaps. He was making loud noises and the elephant was visibly irritated. It was disgusting to see such irresponsible people. The elephant took two steps back, shook its head vigorously and made a trumpet noise!! It should have charged him and beaten him up. Would have served him right!!

Anyway, the entire trip was a satisfying experience with spotting the leopard being the highlight of the trip. The group was great, the humor was awesome and all the narration of exciting stories of Kenneth Anderson from my friends (I should make it a point to read his books) was the icing on the cake.

Some of the snaps from the trip can be found here...


Pratibha said...

:) Interesting experience! The snaps and their titles are good.. :)

Divya A L said...

wow nice :) If u haven been to bannerghatta off late, i suggest u go there too!!

The big cats are reallllyyyy big, awesome, majestic and all that u hav told about the leopard...
Esp the white visit once!!

dilip said...


Have been to Bannerghatta...But what i experienced here in the wild was totally different!
So maybe you should visit a tiger reserve once...It will be worth the trip..:P :)

Anand said...

dilip, great writeup and photos. call me up next time yopu guys are planning for something like this

dilip said...

Thanks Anand.. Sure will do..